Doha Centre for Media Freedom celebrated the “most important day in its calendar” by hosting a programme of activities to mark World Press Freedom Day 2013.
The main event of the day was a panel discussion focusing on the “Media Landscape of Qatar: Past, Present and Future,” which brought together journalists and media experts to discuss the history of local media institutions and the way they should develop in the future.
The discussion, which was hosted by prominent journalist, Mohamed Al-Marri, provided an interesting insight into how the media scene has grown in Qatar, with panellists suggesting that there is a large margin of media freedom here, but that editors and journalists choose not to take advantage of the space they have been provided.
Dr Elham Bader Al-Sada, a journalist and head of media and public relations at the Qatari Institution for Child and Woman Protection, described her experience as a young Qatar female journalist trying to break into a traditionally male-dominated industry, and argued that journalists and editors are responsible for making use of the media freedom available in Qatar.
This was by no means an opinion shared by all the participants, and members of the audience argued that media freedom is “an idea which is being exported” but is not present in Qatar itself. Audience members suggested that media institutions are under the control of the government, and are forced to shy away from certain stories.
“Qatar excels in politics and sports, but not media,” argued one audience member.
“Journalists have to make sacrifices and the salaries are not encouraging, so the only reason to become a journalist is love of the media,” said Mubarak Jiham Al-Kuwari, the executive chairman of the Qatar Media Institution. He argued that popular local television and radio shows had paved the way for the establishment of Al Jazeera, and noted: “Compared to other Gulf countries we have always been outspoken.”
Editor-in-chief of Al Sharq newspaper, Jaber Al-Harami suggested that members of the Qatari media are constrained by working within such a close-knit community. He spoke about the significance of social media, but highlighted the importance of establishing that sources are “credible, tenable, reliable and valid.”
“So far so good – the context is not ideal but we are happy with the way things are,” he added.
Al Rayyan TV presenter, Nasser Salmeen noted that the establishment of new media outlets is offering the opportunity for young Qataris to pursue a career in the media. He also spoke about the significance of social media and the need to use new platforms in a “good and fruitful manner.”
Awards and exhibitions
The event also included a prizegiving ceremony to honour the winners of the centre’s inaugural World Press Freedom Cartoon Contest, which welcomed nearly 250 entries from almost 50 countries around the world.
The ceremony was attended by the third placed entrant, Abdel Naser Al-Jafari, as well as a representative of Hani Abbas, the second placed artist. The overall winner of the competition, Alby Letoy was presented with his prize of $1,500 for his cartoon. The Indonesian cartoonist, who was leaving his country for the first time, said that he was delighted to be in Qatar and was pleased to have been selected as the winner, especially after seeing the other pieces of art which were selected to be exhibited.
Ali Ferzat, the award-winning and renowned Syrian cartoonist and member of the DCMF jury attended the ceremony and highlighted the power of cartoons to stand up for people suffering under government repression.
"To be a cartoonist you have to make a lot of sacrifices because you have to defend the rights of others and inmost cases you pay a high price,” he said, referring to his torture at the hands of the Syrian regime.
“I was proud to be part of breaking the barrier of fear in Syria and I was proud to see people holding my cartoons,” he said, adding “I am from the people, for the people.”
DCMF also hosted a photographic exhibition, featuring pictures taken during the eight day war in Gaza in 2012. DCMF’s Gaza bureau was among the media outlets and journalists who were targeted during the conflict, and despite suffering damage in a bomb attack, the centre’s office provided assistance and support to international and local journalists covering events at the time.
Both exhibitions will be show at the art studio in Katara building number 19, from today until May 5.